This post was written by TCCS member, Jenny Marshall
What I learned in my first year as a freelance copywriter, and how it helped me start my business
Is it too cliché to say I knew I wanted to be a writer from the age of 5? (I’m sure this will resonate with many of you.)
But life had other plans. I spent years as a teacher, worked for a bank and even an educational publishing company as a sales rep.
Still, there comes a time when you can’t ignore that fire in your belly any longer, and writing awkwardly long messages in birthday cards doesn’t cut it anymore. And so I decided to put myself out there and see whether someone would pay me to write words for them.
It was a daunting prospect. Could I actually pull it off?
Well, it’s been a slow burn. But yes, I’m now being paid for my writing. And copywriting opened the door for me, rather than the ill-informed rap song I wrote as a 15-year-old. (But that’s a story for another day.)
I learned a lot in my first year. I tackled imposter syndrome (which I fear is unavoidable in a creative field) and learned the basics such as finding work, getting paid, being consistent, and finding the inner strength to handle feedback.
Here are my top 5 tips for getting started.
1. Tackling imposter syndrome
I didn’t quit my day job. And I’m still not sure whether that made the journey easier or harder.
Sure, it gave me some financial security. But the fact I had a safety net meant I wasn’t ‘all in’. It meant I had less time to invest, and I was less hungry to find work.
It also affected my self-belief and fed my imposter syndrome. Wearing multiple hats can be tricky. You have more than one identity, and the one that has the most experience usually wins the mental battle.
For me, the hardest part was the mental transition. Like an actor perennially typecast as the romantic lead it’s hard to believe you can be something else, especially after spending years in a traditional career.
Our identity is often wrapped up in our vocation. I’m a teacher. And so I had to challenge myself and believe I could be whatever I wanted to be.
When I was starting out, I read blog after blog. And podcasts quickly replaced my walking tracks. One theme that popped up time and time again was imposter syndrome. I’m not sure anyone escapes it, at least not in a creative field. It can take a while to feel competent in any new skill. And this was certainly a new skill for me.
Completing courses helped me with my confidence. But they also gave me cause to postpone putting myself out there. The fear of failure leads to damaging levels of procrastination at times.
My tip is to not feel that everything needs to be polished before you start. You don’t need an expensive website or perfect Instagram posts. You just need to write well and back yourself.
2. Opening doors
At every meet and greet I went to, my burning question was “How and where do I find clients?”
As a teacher, I was given a class of students to teach. I didn’t need to cold call them and convince them to take my class. So how do you find your first client?
- Cold calling. This didn’t feel natural to me at all. My advice here is to simply put yourself out there no matter how uncomfortable it feels. Flip the script in your head. Instead of thinking you’re selling your services, tell yourself that you’re helping other people. Your potential clients may hate the thought of writing a blog post or prospecting email, and your service will help them. Spend some time researching companies you’d like to work with, and then reach out.
- Join a copywriting group. People in these groups often pass on opportunities they come across, such as subcontracting jobs, and list them on social media.You might have access to a job board or have an opportunity to list your details in their directory.
- Tell everyone you know you’re a writer. Mention it when you’re at an event. Post it in your socials. Yes, it can feel uncomfortable. I didn’t post anything on social media before starting out as a copywriter. I went from having a cockatoo as my profile picture on Facebook to multiple social media accounts with my name and face out there for the world to see. It took some getting used to, but I accepted it as being part of the job. It gets easier, I promise.
3. Being consistent
“Do something every day to move yourself forward” was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received. Show up every day, even when you feel you’re not making any headway. Send out an email. Write a blog post. Make a phone call.
You may not get an instant response. But it could lead to something in the future. Some of my jobs came months after I’d first contacted the company. Remember: Every action you take increases your momentum, improves your confidence, and moves you forward.
4. Sorting out your pricing
I’ve definitely sold myself short on some jobs. Being eager to get that first or second job can mean undercutting the competition or not valuing your time enough.
I get it. You need to get some runs on the board so you can start a portfolio and boost your confidence. And yes, working for free can lead to paid work. But set yourself boundaries and decide just how much time you’re willing to put in to get this off the ground. Find out what other copywriters charge for standard jobs, and write a script so you’re not thinking ‘on the fly’ when you speak with a client. Take your experience into account, and try to estimate the briefing time and how much research you’ll need to do.
If you come in high, you’ll need to accept the possibility of losing the job. But if you come in low, you’ll be setting a precedent that you’ll charge similar rates for all your ongoing work. Only you can decide what your time is worth.
The Clever Copywriting School has a free guide on the recommended rates for Australian copywriters.
5. Developing a thick skin
Like any job, the chemistry between you and your client needs to be right. And you may find you’re not the right person for a particular job. But never change yourself to fit the mould. There’s no longevity in that.
Try not to take rejection or feedback personally either. I know that’s easier said than done. But try to learn something from every interaction you have – good or bad.
In the early years, feedback from a client can be hard to handle, especially if you don’t agree with it. Poring over your words for hours only to have them chopped up and rewritten by the client is tough. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good copy. When you write copy you’re effectively a ghostwriter. It’s the client’s voice, not yours, and so they need to be happy with the final product.
Remember: If they’re satisfied with your work then you’ve written well.
I may only be a year in, but I’m already further along than I ever thought I’d get. Pushing through imposter syndrome and putting yourself out there is easier said than done. But it’s an essential part of the journey. Your inner voice will always be a tougher critic than your toughest client.
You don’t get anywhere in life unless you have a go. We tell kids this every day, and it’s good advice.
Feeling proud of the progress you’ve made is also important. You don’t need to take on a big client to feel that you’ve made it. Securing your first client (and your first payment) is poignant.
You’re a copywriter.
Give yourself props for making it this far and use the momentum to keep pushing forward.
Over to you
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About Jenny Marshall
Jenny Marshall is a Sydney-based copywriter and content writer who specialises in education and real estate. A strong advocate for children’s literacy, she’s working on several picture book manuscripts and hopes to add ‘Published children’s author’ to her bio in the future.